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J. Mueller

PhD student
J. Mueller

On the History and Material Culture of Historical and Contemporary Cell Models since 1958


Throughout the history of science education, visualizations of cell models, and the dissemination of respective cell models can be viewed as a paradigm of how the relationship and material culture between research, knowledge generation, and science education can unfold and how this specific relation plays out within the field of art / design and society at large.

In Germany, school pupils and university students have a more or less precise idea of "the cell". The idea is created primarily by means of illustrations and material models, which are an integral part of school's curricula. Especially physical models follow a continuous history of style, influenced by two companies and their commercial, educational cell visualizations in particular. This design history appears to affect our learning, teaching, and researching from a regional up to a global scale – it defines our entire visual and material thinking of cells.

The research will address the question where and when this design tradition was developed, beginning in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. It will deal with aspects of the fast-developing process in cell research in contrast to the negligible development in the field of professional educational cell models. Related to people-object relationships it will be asked: In which ways were and are cell models used and reflected between classroom, exhibition and laboratory. Are there shifts, changes or movements to find between their location and their type of use? Is there (aside from commercial and museological models) a “need” for unconventional ideas within “DIY” cell model building movements and within a rising 3D printing community? How do these movements affect our teaching-, learning- and research-practice? During the project, developers of selected cell models will be asked about their design-practice and their practice-based research, which became part of their individual development processes. How was knowledge, research and practice woven between the cooperatives of designers and scientists? What is the role of designers and their practice within the context of scientific research and education? How can design-based and practice-based research contribute to sustainable knowledge generation in and for society?

The artistic research project will refer to various methods between material culture and practice-based research. Object narratives, person-object relationships, design-practice as well as attempts of practice-based research will be reflected within an actor-network. The research will focus on the history, material culture and everyday culture within a regional and a global view on cell models between design, aesthetic, production and consumption. The ongoing research will be examined through expert interviews, qualitative content and object analysis. Further archive research results will be evaluated and contextualized in dependence of source analysis and iconic critism. In this context, a design- and practice-based research methodology between scientific questioning and material exploration will be applied to obtain a material access to the studied objects. 

The research will shed light on the relationship and relevance between learning, teaching, and researching with and by material models within different fields of education, public participation, and communication as well as their use in everyday laboratory work. It will trace back the cell model’s history of style between commercial models, museological objects and artifacts of “DIY” movements. The project will end with reflections on models in current natural scientific research. The practice- and design-based research will culminate in a concept for an open access “DIY study box” between micro exhibition (in both digital and analogue materiality) and object-based learning, using approaches of a practice-based modelling research. The didactic concept is supposed to serve as a resource between making knowledge visible though visualization, comprehensible and hand able through materialization and unlimited accessible through open access and online publishing. 



Object studies; material culture; artistic research; practice- & design-based research; history of science; everyday culture; science education artefacts; scientific models; digital & analogue materiality; material literacy; object-based-learning.

Last modified:24 February 2021 5.51 p.m.

Contact information

Oude Boteringestraat 34
9712 GK Groningen
The Netherlands